Friday, 6 May 2016

Do you really want to live forever - forever young?

Not sure why this crossed my path recently, but I’m glad it did. I’ve always loved its melancholy, yearning, plaintive essence...I’ve never understood those who think of it as an upbeat paean to youth - even when I first heard it, it made me want to cry.
I mean, you’d think the first verse would give it away, right:
Let's start in style, let's dance for a while, 
Heaven can wait we're only watching the skies.
Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst, 
Are you gonna drop the bomb or not? 
The essence of youth in the 80s, near the end of the Cold War - though no one knew that of course. 
Released the year before Gorbachev took office, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Forever Young captures the mix of hope and terror during the intense, taut period of increasing tension and decreasing DEFCON (look it up) just before, caught by movies like The Day After and Threads.
This year, the one in which we’ve already lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Prince, Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett and others, this verse didn't pull its punch:
Some are like water, some are like the heat -
Some are a melody and some are the beat.
Sooner or later they all will be gone...
Why don't they stay young?
I wish I knew.
But the part that grabbed me the first time I heard it and has never let go is the second part of the chorus:
Forever young, 
I want to be forever young.
Do you really want to live forever?
Forever young.
Now, the standard understanding has never been how I’ve heard it, though I would say the phrasing supports it. I’ve always heard:
Forever young, 
I want to be forever young.
Do you really want to live forever -
forever young?
Which layers it differently, giving it a different meaning and tension - and to me, it’s one of the core questions of our search for meaning. I think the only reason I saw it was because of one of my favourite childhood books: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. (Read the book - don’t touch any of the dramatisations.)
When I first heard the question sung by Marian Gold (Hartwig Schierbaum), my answer to both versions was a heartfelt, unqualified ‘Yes’ - because, like the singer, I was terrified of leaving life not having lived it to the full, and I wanted all the time possible in which to do that. 
Years on, my answer is - as it is to so many questions I once had unequivocal answers to - I don’t know. Maybe I understand Angus Tuck better now. Maybe I understand better what it would be to outlive everyone I love. Maybe it’s that some part of me feels that death, in making life finite, also makes life precious. 
 Or maybe, like Rabindranath Tagore, I see death differently:
Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. 
And that is a dawn that, one day, I hope to step into and discover what lies beyond.

No comments: